Rice football dropped their Week 7 home contest to the UAB Blazers as the Owls’ offense was muted for the second week in a row and the defense surrendered a few big plays.
A week removed from a 3-point performance against UTSA the Owls’ offensive struggles continued against UAB. Things got worse against UAB. Rice football was shut out for the first since they lost 37-0 against No. 11 TCU in 2000, a span of 210 games.
Head coach Mike Bloomgren and his staff will once again be forced pick up the pieces after another disheartening loss which dropped the Owls to 1-6 overall and 0-3 in CUSA play. Here are some initial reactions from the loss.
1. The secondary is still getting beat deep
The UTSA game will more than likely prove to be the highwater mark for the season for the Rice secondary. That’s not to say this unit won’t have more days, but holding any team to under 50 yards passing is an extremely rare feat. Even knowing this week would more than likely feature a higher yardage total, the results were still frustrating.
Justin Bickham and Brandon Douglas-Dotson were both beat down the field for long touchdown passes. The secondary as a whole allowed several UAB receivers to get behind the last line of defense and were fortunate to some degree that they were either overthrown or not targeted.
The defense allowed 274 yards through the air and two passing touchdowns. Both were improvements from their season averages coming into the game, but each number could have been better … or much worse. Needless to say there will be plenty of film to watch and things to be corrected from this game. That goes for the front seven as well, who were equally unproductive against the run.
2. The offensive line remains out of sync
The offensive line is Mike Bloomgren’s area of expertise. Before being elevated to the offensive coordinator position at Stanford he was the offensive line coach and run game coordinator for the Cardinal. He has proven success in the trenches, but thus far the offensive line at Rice hasn’t been able to gel.
After hearing rumblings of potential changes throughout the week, Rice started the game with true freshman Jake Syptak at left tackle in place of Ozuma Osuji who had started the Owls’ previous six games. Joining him were Jack Greene, Shea Baker, Joseph Dill and Sam Pierce.
With just under seven minutes to play in the first quarter Rice found themselves in fourth and one. They went to the jumbo package, with all 11 players jammed into the middle. Jordan Meyers got the carry and went nowhere, turning the ball over on downs. That’s the kind of situation that Bloomgren lives for making it equally frustrating when the result was a short loss.
The unit struggled with pass protection too. UAB picked up three sacks and two quarterback hurries. Shawn Stankavage and Evan Marshman were decent when each had time to throw, averaging 10.5 yards per completion with a few nice balls thrown downfield by each of them. If the line does not improve the offense is not going to get much better.
3. Creative playcalling not enough to jump start the offense
Don’t miss the forest for the trees here. Offensive plays that pick up big yardage aren’t automatically “good play calling” and plays that result in negative results aren’t “bad play calling”. First and foremost, the Owls have an execution issue. Poor execution renders any sort of playcalling futile.
After a dismal offensive performance against UTSA the Rice offense needed some kind of spark. Credit is due to offensive coordinator Jerry Mack and the rest of coaching staff for coming up with some new wrinkles to add to the Owls’ repertoire on Saturday. The execution wasn’t there, not just on the new looks, but on the basic fundamentals of this offense.
Freshman running back Juma Otoviano saw his first action of the season, coming in as the Owls’ wildcat quarterback and picking up a few yards on the ground. Rice also incorporated a shovel pass, some creative reads and just about everything but the kitchen sink.
It’s clear that this offense is stuck in neutral and needs to figure out how to move the ball consistently. They didn’t find the answer against UAB, just like they didn’t figure things out against UTSA. There are a host of plays that the offensive staff is going to want back, but poor execution is just as much to blame as the playcalling, if not more so. The execution was so spotty on Saturday that even the better play calls fell flat.
4. It’s time to talk about the quarterbacks
The head coach and the quarterback get too much credit when a team wins and too much blame when the team loses. That’s never going to change, but it’s important to make a distinction between individual performances and collective offensive issues when evaluating quarterback play.
With that disclaimer, here are the stat lines for the Rice quarterbacks against UAB:
- Stankavage: 7-for-12, 79 yards
- Marshman: 6-for-16, 57 yards
All of the Rice quarterbacks spent as much time under duress as they did looking down the field. The fear of the oncoming pass rush was noticeable for Stankavage, who looked uncomfortable in the pocket from the start of this game.
It was another game in which Stankavage wasn’t awful, but didn’t show the same growth in the offense as he did early in this season. He just hasn’t progressed enough as a passer. That, combined with a struggling offense, had opened the door for someone else to take the reigns on offense. Bloomgren’s hand was forced, though, as Stankavage left this game in the first half before returning to the sideline with his left foot in a boot.
5. Final thoughts
It’s not fun to lose. Rice fans know that as well as anyone else in the country, and so does Bloomgren. If Rice wanted to try and catch lightning in a bottle with an up-and-coming coach they could have gone that route in the hiring process. Instead, they opted for Bloomgren. Someone who’s had tremendous amounts of success and recruited extremely well. He has a plan, a great coaching staff and he’s building for the long term.
Recruiting is just as much a part of a new coaching staff as installing an offense, defense and special teams. The talent at Rice needs to get better for the Owls to compete, and the coaching staff needs to continue to grow as well. Those aren’t mutually exclusive, and they’re not things that happen overnight. Grow pains hurt. They’re not fun, just like Saturday wasn’t fun, but they’re a part of the process.
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